History

There is much to know about Puerto Rico. Its history is quite interesting and it will intrigue you!!! Here are some interesting facts.


Culture Name

Puerto Rican

Alternative Names

Borinquen, Borincano, Borinqueño, Boricua

History

Christopher Columbus landed in Puerto Rico in 1493, during his second voyage, naming it San Juan Bautista. The Taínos, the indigenous people, called the island Boriquén Tierra del alto señor ("Land of the Noble Lord"). In 1508, the Spanish granted settlement rights to Juan Ponce de León, who established a settlement at Caparra and became the first governor. In 1519 Caparra had to be relocated to a nearby coastal islet with a healthier environment; it was renamed Puerto Rico ("Rich Port") for its harbor, among the world's best natural bays. The two names were switched over the centuries: the island became Puerto Rico and its capital San Juan. The United States anglicized the name to "Porto Rico" when it occupied the island in 1898 after the Spanish-American War. This spelling was discontinued in 1932.

Puerto Ricans are a Caribbean people who regard themselves as citizens of a distinctive island nation in spite of their colonial condition and U.S. citizenship. This sense of uniqueness also shapes their migrant experience and relationship with other ethnoracial groups in the United States. However, this cultural nationalism coexists with a desire for association with the United States as a state or in the current semiautonomous commonwealth status.t

Location and Geography

Puerto Rico is the easternmost and smallest of the Greater Antilles, bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the north and the Caribbean Basin to the south. Puerto Rico is a crucial hemispheric access point. Puerto Rico retains its strategic importance, housing the U.S. Army Southern Command and other military facilities. Since the 1940s, the U.S. Navy has used its offshore islands for military maneuvers that have damaged their ecology, economy, and quality of life.

Puerto Rico includes the surrounding small islands, including Culebra and Vieques to the east and Mona to the west.

The tropical island ecosystem is unique and diversified in spite of industrialization and urban sprawl. There are twenty forest reserves, such as El Yunque Rain Forest and the Caribbean National Forest, which are under federal jurisdiction.

A rugged central mountain range constitutes two-thirds of the island and separates a northern coastal plain noted for karst formations from a drier southern plain.

Spain turned Puerto Rico into a military stronghold. San Juan was walled and fortified to house military forces, but the other settlements were neglected until the eighteenth century; isolated by the scarcity of roads, they subsisted on contraband, with little official management.

Demography

Puerto Rico is densely populated and urbanized. Census projections for 2000 place the population at 3,916,000, not including the estimated 2.7 million Puerto Ricans in the mainland United States. Almost 70 percent of the island is

Puerto Rico 

urban, in contrast to its rural character up to the 1940s. Sprawl has integrated formerly distinct barrios (rural and suburban neighborhoods), cities, and towns.

Puerto Ricans self-define as a homogenized Taíno, African, and Spanish mixture. Taínos were Amerindians who occupied the island before European domination. Then estimated at thirty thousand, they were reduced to two thousand by the seventeenth century through exploitative labor, disease, native uprisings, and emigration to the other islands. But many fled into the highlands or intermarried: Spanish immigration to the island was mostly male and interracial relations less stigmatizing than among Anglo settlers. The contemporary revival of Taíno identity is partially based on the survival of Taíno highland communities.

Linguistic Affiliation

Spanish and English are the official languages, but Puerto Rico is overwhelmingly Spanish speaking, despite government efforts to eradicate Spanish or foster bilingualism. Puerto Rican Spanish is a dialect of standard Spanish that has its own particularities.

Symbolism

The most powerful cultural symbol is the island itself. Idealized in a variety of media, its image resonates even among members of U.S. migrant communities. Natural and human-made features associated with the island are imbued with great value. The coquí (a tiny indigenous tree frog), royal palms, Taíno petroglyphs, Luquillo Beach and El Yunque, bomba and plena (music and dance forms of African origin), literature, and native food are some of these features. Puerto Ricans in New York City have built casitas, copies of the traditional rural wooden houses painted in vibrant colors and decorated with Puerto Rican objects.

The jíbaro, the highland rural folk, has become a controversial symbol because jíbaros are depicted as descendants of white Spanish settlers in a way that casts Puerto Rico as a backward rural society and negates Puerto Rico's African roots.

Architecture

Old San Juan is a world-class example of Spanish urban architecture adapted to a tropical environment. After the commonwealth government initiated its renovation, it became a tourist attraction and a handsome residential and commercial area. Its

A man hand-rolls cigars for the Bayamón Tobacco Corporation, the last family-owned cigar producer in Puerto Rico. They produce five thousand cigars per day. 

landmarks and fortifications, such as the Castle of San Felipe del Morro, are regarded as international treasures. The greater San Juan metropolitan area is a congested mix of undistinguished building styles that contains functionally distinct areas: Condado and Isla Verde are tourist enclaves, Santurce is a mix of commercial and residential spaces, Hato Rey has become the financial and banking center, and Río Piedras is the site of the University of Puerto Rico. Sprawl has eroded the sense of community and precluded pedestrian use, and an excellent network of modern highways has fostered car dependency to the detriment of the environment.

Puerto Ricans have a strong cultural preference for owning their own houses. Housing developments ( urbanizaciones ) are the norm; shopping centers and strip malls have partially replaced the old marketplaces.

Symbols of Social Stratification

A "good" family and education are considered more important than wealth, but class distinctions increasingly are based on the ability to purchase and consume certain goods and commodities such as cars, electronic media, clothes, and travel.


A doorway painted to represent the flag used in the 1868 Lares Insurrection.

 

A young woman holds a banner during a pro-statehood demonstration. A U.S. commonwealth since 1952, Puerto Rico has maintained a strong sense of nationalism.


Marriage

Puerto Ricans consider family life a core cultural value; family and kin are viewed as the most enduring and reliable support network. Despite a high divorce rate and an increase in serial monogamy, most people prefer marriage to living together, although female virginity is not as important as it was in the past. Today courting is based on group or individual dating rather than chaperoned outings. Wedding ceremonies may be religious or secular but preferably include receptions for relatives and friends. Although remaining single is increasingly acceptable, marriage is an important marker of adulthood.

Religious Beliefs

The U.S. occupation brought Protestant missions to a predominantly Catholic society. An estimated 30 percent of the population is now Protestant. All major denominations are represented, and there is a synagogue in San Juan but no mosque. Revivalism is quite popular.

The Catholic Church had much power under Spain, but Catholics are prone to a populistic kind of religion that is wary of the established church and its hierarchy. Many people are nonobservant, yet consider themselves devout because they pray, are faithful, treat others with compassion, and communicate directly with God.

Secular Celebrations

People celebrate both United States and Puerto Rican holidays and feast days. Major local holidays include New Year's Eve (1January), Three Kings Day (6 January), Hostos Day (11 January), Constitution Day (25 July), Discovery Day (19 November), and Christmas Day (25 December). Easter Thursday and Friday are observed. Cities and town celebrate the patron saint's feast day, usually with carnivals, processions, masses, dances, and concerts. These celebrations are local, except for the eve of the island's patron saint, Saint John (23 June).

The government sponsors civic and military parades for political holidays such as the Fourth of July and Constitution Day. Christmas, New Year's Eve, and Three Kings are the high points of a holiday party season that extends from mid-December to mid-January. Easter brings religious processions.

Support for the Arts

The arts are important as expressions of cultural nationalism. The government has contributed to their institutionalization through the establishment of the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña, which sponsors and funds artistic activities and programs. Although the institute has been criticized for fostering an essentialistic notion of national identity and favoring "high" culture, it has been instrumental in recovering the artistic past and fostering new arts production. Local artists have access to support from U.S. institutions.

Literature

Puerto Rican literature is usually dated to the nineteenth century publication of El Gíbaro, a collection of pieces on the island's traditions, because the book represents the first self conscious expression of a native culture.

Performing Arts

Music ranges from popular and folk genres to classical works. Salsa, the island's most recent contribution to world music, is rooted in African rhythms. Puerto Rico has classical composers and performers and has been the site of the international Casals Festival since the 1950s.

 

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© Abigail Burgio 2016